TIME North Korea

Lil’ Kim’s Dad ‘Wanted $10 Billion to Hold a Summit with South Korea’

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Il  speaks
North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Il speaks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (not pictured) during their meeting at Sosnovy Bor Military Garrison, Zaigrayevsky District, Buryatia outside Ulan-Ude on August 24, 2011. DMITRY ASTAKHOV—AFP/Getty Images

Apparently, you can put a price on peace

In 2009, North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Il set steep demands for holding a summit with the South, including $10 billion and half a million tons of food, according to former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in a new book.

“The document [of demands] looked like some sort of standardized ‘summit bill’ with its list of assistance we had to provide and the schedule written up,” said Lee in extracts seen by Reuters, referring to Pyongyang’s request for 800,000 combined tons of rice, corn and fertilizer. “We shouldn’t be haggling for a summit.”

Upon receipt of Kim’s demands, Lee says he chose not to acquiesce, scuppering prospects for negotiations between the long-time foes.

While North and South Korea have officially been at war since 1950 — separated by a slender buffer known as the Korean Demilitarized Zone — talks have occasionally been held, and new summits are intermittently proposed. Current North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Park Geun-hye have not outright rejected the possibility of a meeting this year.

[Reuters]

TIME North Korea

North Korea May Be Restarting Nuke Plant, Says U.S. Institute

North Korea Reactor
An annotated satellite photo indicating signs of new activity at the 5 MWe Plutonium Production Reactor at North Korea'’s Nyongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center Airbus Defense and Space, Spot Image, Pleiades - CNES via 38 North—AP

Satellite images reveal that the isolated state may be resuming the nuclear project

(SEOUL) — North Korea may be attempting to restart its main nuclear bomb fuel reactor after a five-month shutdown, a U.S. research institute said Thursday.

If true, the finding, which is based on recent commercial satellite imagery, will be an added worry for the United States and the North’s neighbors at a time of increasing animosity over recent U.S. sanctions against the North and Pyongyang’s fury about a U.N. push to punish its alleged human rights abuses.

Activity at the 5-megawatt Nyongbyon reactor is closely watched because North Korea is thought to have a handful of crude nuclear bombs, part of its efforts to build an arsenal of nuclear tipped missiles that could one day hit America’s mainland. Nyongbyon, which has produced plutonium used for past nuclear test explosions, restarted in 2013 after being shuttered under a 2007 disarmament agreement. It has been offline since August.

Possible signs in satellite imagery from Dec. 24 through Jan. 11 that the reactor is in the early stages of being restarted include hot water drainage from a pipe at a turbine building that indicates steam from the reactor and growing snow-melt on the roofs of the reactor and turbine buildings.

The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, however, said that since the recent observation period was only about two weeks, it’s too soon to reach a definitive conclusion about what’s happening and more monitoring is needed. The institute’s website, 38 North, published the findings.

Nyongybon can likely produce about one bomb’s worth of plutonium per year. A uranium enrichment facility there could also give it a second method to produce fissile material for bombs. It is not clear if North Korea has yet mastered the technology needed to make warheads small enough to be mounted on missiles, but each nuclear test presumably moves its scientists closer toward that goal.

North Korea has said it is willing to rejoin international nuclear disarmament talks last held in 2008, but Washington demands that it first take concrete steps to show it remains committed to past nuclear pledges.

The United States also rejected a recent North Korean offer to impose a temporary moratorium on its nuclear tests if Washington scraps its annual military drills with Seoul; Pyongyang claims those drills are invasion preparation. The U.S. called the linking of the military drills, which it says are defensive and routine, with a possible nuclear test “an implicit threat.”

Always rocky ties between Pyongyang and Washington dipped lower because of a recent Hollywood movie depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The U.S. blames the North for crippling hacking attacks on the movie’s producer, Sony, and subsequently imposed new sanctions on the country, inviting an angry response from Pyongyang, which has denied responsibility for the cyberattacks.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 28

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. As pressure builds for U.S. military attention to Boko Haram in Nigeria, that nation’s political situation and past abuses complicate planning.

By Kevin Baron and Molly O’Toole at Defense One

2. What was once an “artist” is now a “creative entrepreneur.” Marketing and networking have forever changed art.

By William Deresiewicz in the Atlantic

3. Does the rising danger of digital attacks mean traditional warfare is irrelevant?

By David Barno and Nora Bensahel in War on the Rocks

4. Probability forecasts would take some getting used to, but they are a better way to tell the public about major weather events.

By Graham T. Beck in Time

5. Improving the ‘cold chain’ — how food stays fresh from farm to table — could massively reduce waste and carbon emissions.

By Adam Wernick at Public Radio International

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME North Korea

Russia Confirms North Korea Leader’s Visit in May

TO GO WITH Oly-2012-PRK,FEATURE(FILES)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un saluting as he watches a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012 . Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

Kremlin declined to mention Kim Jong-Un by name, leaving some ambiguity as to whether the reclusive leader himself might attend

North Korea’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong Un, will reportedly make his first official visit abroad this May to attend a World War II commemorative ceremony in Moscow, Russian officials said on Wednesday.

Russia’s presidential spokesperson confirmed that North Korea’s leader was among 20 “state leaders” who plan to attend the ceremony, which will mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reports.

However, the Kremlin declined to mention Kim Jong-Un by name, leaving some ambiguity as to whether Kim would attend in person or would be represented by his nominal head of state for foreign relations, Kim Yong-nam.

TIME North Korea

Dennis Rodman Doesn’t Believe North Korea Hacked Sony

CHINA-US-NKOREA-DIPLOMACY-BASKET
Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman waits to check in for his flight to North Korea after his arrival at Beijing's international airport on Jan. 6, 2014. Wang Zhao—AFP/Getty Images

"North Korea is going to hack a comedy, a movie that is really nothing? I can’t see that happening"

Dennis Rodman doesn’t believe that North Korea hacked Sony Pictures, the basketball star and self-declared friend of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un said in an interview published Saturday.

“How many movies have there been attacking North Korea? And they never hacked those. North Korea is going to hack a comedy, a movie that is really nothing? I can’t see that happening,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

Rodman, whose remarks came as he promotes his new documentary on his travels to North Korea, has traveled to the isolated country on multiple occasions and has received a warm welcome from Kim, whom he describes as a friend. The basketball star has been criticized for being too cozy with a country often considered among the most repressive in the world.

Read More: The Interview May Be Funny; North Korea and Kim Jong Un Are Not

The claim challenges the United States government’s allegation that North Korea hacked Sony Pictures in retaliation for depicting the assassination of the country’s dictator in the movie The Interview.

Sony ultimately cancelled the theatrical release of the film in response to terrorist threats against some theaters that planned to show the movie.

[THR]

TIME North Korea

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un May Visit Moscow, Russia Says

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's address
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's address in this January 1, 2015 photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. KCNA—Reuters

Kim hasn't made an official foreign visit before

Kim Jong Un could visit Moscow this May in his first foreign visit as North Korea’s leader, according to statements from Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov said on Wednesday that an invitation to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany received a “positive” response from North Korea, the Wall Street Journal reports.

He would not elaborate further, however, and the North Korean government has not yet commented on the proposed trip.

Kim, who had sent an envoy to Russian President Vladimir Putin in November, has not made an official foreign trip since assuming power in 2011.

[WSJ]

TIME North Korea

North Korean Camp Survivor Admits He Was Not Straight About His Story

Shin Dong-hyuk
North Korean human-rights activist Shin Dong-hyuk delivers remarks during an event on human rights in North Korea at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, in New York City, on Sept. 23, 2014 Jason DeCrow—AP

Shin Dong-hyuk's story was the basis for the book Escape From Camp 14

When Shin Dong-hyuk’s life story was published in 2012, CNN hailed it as a “true North Korea survival story.” Born in a notorious North Korean prison complex, Shin endured almost unimaginable deprivation and torture before breaking out, crawling under an electrified fence, and over the body of a fellow prisoner, to flee. The account, Escape From Camp 14, by journalist Blaine Harden, became a New York Times best seller, helping to call global attention to the country’s egregious rights abuses.

Trouble is, it was not all true.

On Friday Jan. 16, Shin told Harden a revised version of the story. While he was born at Camp 14, he spent part of his youth at another complex, Camp 18, escaping twice before landing back at the first camp, he now says. And it was at Camp 18, not at Camp 14, that he betrayed his mother and brother, sharing their plan to escape, and then witnessing their executions. This and other new details came to light after fellow defectors raised questions about the tale. The new timeline, first published by the Washington Post, has yet to be confirmed.

“When I agreed to share my experience for the book, I found it was too painful to think about some of the things that happened,” Shin told Harden. “So I made a compromise in my mind. I altered some details that I thought wouldn’t matter. I didn’t want to tell exactly what happened in order not to relive these painful moments all over again.” Shin also said in a Facebook page that he did not realize that the extent to which these details mattered, and asked forgiveness.

The details, of course, do matter. As one of the most high-profile survivors of North Korea’s political prisons, Shin has done more than most to raise awareness about the camps and the people who suffer there. Doubts about his credibility as a witness — and hence his credibility as a spokesperson — may make people less likely to believe other survivor testimony.

In weighing the revelations, though, it’s worth keeping three things in mind. First, we don’t yet know the full story. In his Facebook post, Shin said he would not be speaking further on the matter. The author, Harden, says he and his publishers will work to find out what really happened and to amend the book. Until they release more details, or others are able to corroborate Shin’s revised story, there will be gaps. The bulk of the story may — or may not — be true.

Second, it is worth considering why survivors of trauma might provide inconsistent or incorrect testimony. As Shin himself says in his Facebook note, recounting torture can be traumatic, especially when it involves the suffering of family members or friends. And Shin’s story is based on childhood and teenage memories of profound suffering and abuse.

Indeed, those who work with North Korean refugees note that obscuring details and withholding information can be a sort of survival strategy. “North Korean refugees can face more challenges than other refugees because they are acutely aware that what they say may affect people back in North Korea,” says Sokeel Park, director of research and strategy at Liberty in North Korea, an NGO that works with North Koreans. “They still feel tied because their relatives, or the people who helped them escape, are there.”

Third, and perhaps most important, with or without Shin’s testimony, there is a wide body of evidence that the prison camps exist — and are absolutely brutal. A U.N. investigation into the country’s rights abuses includes testimony from 80 witnesses, and was also based on accounts by 240 others who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “The basic knowledge on how serious this is does not hinge on the details of one person’s story,” says Park.

That’s the same message Shin sent out before stepping away from the spotlight for a while. “Instead of me, you all can still fight,” he wrote. “The world still needs to know of the horrendous and unspeakable horrors that are taking place.”

And that, no doubt, is true.

TIME Race

Margaret Cho’s Golden Globes Skit Was Minstrelsy, Not Comedy

The joke didn’t belong at a show where Asian Americans are virtually absent

North Korea—particularly the Kim regime—has long been a goldmine for laughs, ripe for a comedic take. Comedian Andy Borowitz has racked up 273,000 followers channeling Kim Jong-un on Twitter with jokes that parody North Korean news. A recent tweet: “You mess with N Korea’s Internet, you mess with me, coz I’m the only one here who has Internet.” Borowitz isn’t the only one to draw content from Pyongyang. Long before North Korea’s entry into the axis of evil, ripping on the Kim dictatorship had become commonplace; it was easy, a comic release for situations—be it famine or labor camps or weapons—that nobody found very funny.

The most recent example: comedienne Margaret Cho’s running gag at the Golden Globes on Sunday. Uniformed as a pop-culture-savvy Army General, Cho mocked North Korea as her vermilion upside-down mouth spewed broken English. The reaction was split: viewers clamoring over how her performance was either hilarious or another recycled, racist routine.

Cho has played the late Kim Jong-il on 30 Rock, which earned her an Emmy nomination (Amy Poehler has, too, for Saturday Night Live). Was it racist? Eh. I say that because racism in any art form has always been conditional and based on audience and context, as well as the white, male gaze. Put Cho, donned in military gear, goose-stepping, stern and accented, in front of a Korean American or immigrant audience. Feels different—maybe even funny. Put that same skit in front of a non-Asian audience for an awards show where Asian Americans have historically been absent as nominees or presenters or even guests, but where the one Asian American was assigned not as herself, but as a perennial stereotype. Things got uncomfortable. Cho was invited for the sole purpose of making fun of the North Korean government in light of the alleged Sony hack, while a backdrop of white celebrities laughed.

Naturally, Twitter erupted.

Some background: Twenty years ago, Margaret Cho headlined All-American Girl, the first U.S. sitcom to feature an Asian-American family; we haven’t seen an Asian-American family in television situation comedy since, but will next month in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, starring Randall Park, who also portrayed Kim Jong-un in The Interview. The reactions to Cho’s Sunday performance capture a sliver of her unique role as a breakthrough Asian American artist that employs outrageous racial content: she has been applauded for dramatically pushing back racial barriers during her career, while also being accused of racism throughout it.

It’s the extra burden placed on women and comedians of color. White, heterosexual male comedians don’t have to carry the responsibility of representation. They are free to go for the laughs and contribute as culture makers, no matter how juvenile or unfunny or offensive the joke may be. There is no expectation that their jokes represent a monolith. There is no backlash if a joke about white, straight men misfires. On Sunday, the three comics—one Korean, all women—took risks. The Cosby rape joke. North Korea. The reception was heated and torn because there are restrictions, people believe, on what they can say, especially as women, and for Cho, as a woman of color. But that wasn’t why Cho flopped in my eyes. It didn’t work because the joke didn’t belong at the Golden Globes, where Asian Americans are virtually absent, and not for the lack of talent, but for the lack of roles that present us within a spectrum of humanity.

Cho’s supporters would disagree, likely arguing that her skit was nuanced, sophisticated, that is, satire. But Cho’s skit is only that when we erase the history of minstrelsy, if we consume her through a false prism where marginalized groups are afforded multi-dimensional representations in pop culture and beyond. Within that prism, we would “lighten up,” laugh.

Despite what happened on Sunday, I remain an avid fan of Margaret Cho. Her pioneering I’m The One That I Want is one of most notable, and brave, performances to deeply explore racialized sexism in Hollywood. And her endearing portrayal of her mother reminded me, and probably every other Korean watching, of our own immigrant matriarchs—their cultural missteps and reservoir of love. Yet I am acutely aware that when Cho viciously makes fun of her mom—and yes, she’s very funny when she does—the reason I am laughing is different than why non-Asians are. I am touched or humored by the closeness I feel to Cho’s portrayal of her mom; non-Asians, or non-immigrants, are amused because there is distance between them and the foreign Other. This isn’t to say they are laughing, menacingly or inappropriately, at Cho and her family. But it is humorous because it is unfamiliar. Bizarre and weird. Like Kim.

Kai Ma is a writer, journalist and editor. She is the former editor-in-chief of KoreAm, an indie monthly for which she earned the national New America Media Award for Best In-Depth and Investigative Reporting for her feature story on gay marriage and the Asian-American vote. The views expressed are solely her own.

TIME Photojournalism Links

Photojournalism Daily: Jan. 13, 2015

A compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Marco Gualazzini‘s work from Haiti. Published by CNN, they document the country’s state five years after it was hit by devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 160,000 people, and left 1.5 million homeless. The excellent photographs capture Haiti’s enduring scars and hopes, but also signs of recovery.

Marco Gualazzini: Five years after the quake: Haiti at a crossroads (CNN)

Gael Turine: Haiti Earthquake: Five Years After (TIME LightBox) The pictures made during the last two years provide another view at the struggling country. For more on Haiti by other photographers, including Alex Webb, Maggie Steber, Paolo Woods and Bruce Gilden, see the LightBox post: Haiti: Photographers’ Love Affairs With a Country on the Brink.

Lee Grant: Life in North Korea (The New Yorker Photo Booth) Unusually upbeat look at the hermit kingdom.

Capturing the faces and feelings of Paris (CNN) Photographer Peter Turnley shares his photographs and thoughts from this past Sunday’s show of solidarity on the streets of the French capital.

‘A Long Hungry Look’: Forgotten Gordon Parks Photos Document Segregation (The New York Times) Rare Parks photos to be exhibited at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts starting Jan. 17.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 12

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. On the fifth anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, political strife is still the greatest obstacle to recovery.

By Jacqueline Charles in the Miami Herald

2. The U.S. uses economic sanctions because they don’t require a global coalition to work. But they may inflict damage beyond the intended target.

By Paul Richter in the Los Angeles Times

3. With deepening partisanship becoming the norm, don’t look to the states for new ideas.

By Aaron Chatterji in the New York Times

4. Juries could use virtual reality headsets to ‘visit’ crime scenes.

By Jessica Hamzelou in New Scientist

5. A new waterproof solar lantern is helping reduce deaths from burning fuel indoors for the world’s 1.2 billion living without electric light.

By Michael Zelenko in the Verge

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser